Barbara Gilchrist is not afraid to take on big government — especially if it’s in defense of the elderly. “My favorite bureaucracy used to be the Social Security Administration,” says Professor Gilchrist. “Now it’s Medicaid.”
Most recently, Gilchrist and her colleagues successfully fought back attempts by Missouri’s Division of Medical Services to eliminate funding for dental and eyeglass services in the 2002 Medicaid budget. “Medicaid is so important to people, especially low-income people,” says Professor Gilchrist. “When you start taking away their dental care and their ability to see, you’ve taken away a lot.”
Professor Gilchrist has been advocating for the elderly since graduating from law school in 1976. She signed on with Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) and was assigned to the elder law unit at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. While there, she published the agency’s first Senior Citizens Handbook, a guide to the laws and programs affecting senior citizens in Missouri. The handbook is in its 12th edition.
After five years at legal services helping older adults with wills and estate planning, Gilchrist went into private practice for five years. She was lured away by a newly created position at the School of Law to teach and practice elder law. “In elder law practice you forge strong bonds with clients and their families,” Professor Gilchrist says. “How many attorneys can say their clients bring them fruitcakes at Christmas? It’s a different kind of relationship than a lawyer might have when working in a corporate setting.”
In addition to teaching elder law, Professor Gilchrist directs the law school’s externship program, which provides second-and-third-year law students with the opportunity to intern with judges or with lawyers in government, public interest organizations, corporations or law firms. Placements have included the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Missouri and Illinois, the State Prosecutor’s Office, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Two positive outcomes are possible,” says Gilchrist. “Students either find their slice of heaven and know what they want to do the rest of their lives, or students figure out what they don’t want to do.